Abstract Background Transcription factor 7-like 2 (TCF7L2) has emerged as a consistently replicated susceptibility gene for type 2 diabetes, however, whether the TCF7L2 gene also has similar effects on the retinal microvasculature is less clear. We therefore aimed to investigate the association between the transcription factor 7-like 2 (TCF7L2) rs7903146 polymorphism and retinal microvascular phenotypes in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study (1993-1995). Methods This was a population-based, cross-sectional study of 10,320 middle-aged African American (n = 2,199) and Caucasian (n = 8,121) men and women selected from four United States communities to examine the association between TCF7L2 rs7903146 polymorphism and retinal microvascular signs (retinopathy, focal arteriolar narrowing, arteriovenous nicking, arteriolar and venular calibers). Photographs on one randomly selected eye were graded for presence of retinal microvascular signs and used to measure retinal vessel calibres. Results After adjusting for age, sex, study center, mean arterial blood pressure, total serum cholesterol, triglycerides, and other covariates, few associations of TCF7L2 rs7903146 and retinal microvascular signs were noted. TCF7L2 rs7903146 T risk allele was significantly associated with focal arteriolar narrowing in Caucasians with hypertension [odds ratio (OR)CT vs. CC (95% CI) = 1.25 (1.09-1.44); ORTT vs. CC = 1.56 (1.18-2.06); P = 0.002] and in Caucasians without diabetes [OR CT vs. CC = 1.18 (1.06-1.32); OR TT vs. CC = 1.40 (1.12, 1.75); P = 0.003]. No significant association of the TCF7L2 rs7903146 polymorphism and retinal vascular signs was noted among African American individuals. Conclusions TCF7L2 rs7903146 is not consistently associated with retinal microvascular signs. However, we report an association between the TCF7L2 rs7903146 polymorphism and focal arteriolar narrowing in Caucasians with hypertension or without diabetes. Further research in other large, population-based studies is needed to replicate these findings.